Yemeni prisons and crisis of human conscience [Archives:2005/893/Front Page]

November 10 2005

Mohammed bin Sallam
SANA'A- Oct. 25- For years, as Ramadan draws nearer, the different media means discuss the formation of a committee to view the condition of prisons and prisoners in all the Yemeni governorates.

In every Ramadan, there is an official announcement about the scores of prisoners who will be released and donations in millions, often said to be paid by the President of the Republic to solve the problem of prisoners on debts, blood money and the likes.

During the opening days of Ramadan, a report issued by the Parliamentary committee for human rights and freedoms after a serious of visits to prisons revealed a flagrant scandal on the sufferings of prisoners whose families and children suffer from the lack of a leader and exacerbation of poverty and difficult living conditions.

The report stated that according to records of the Sana'a Central Prison, there are 1934 prisoners, of whom 53 are women, 47 juvenile prisoners and 12 children who accompany their imprisoned mothers.

According to the report, 190 prisoners in the Sana'a Central Prison and 800 ones in other prisons at the level of the republic are convicted of robbery and violations against the public interest. Many of them have finished the sentences on them but still in prisons as they have not restored what they took.

The report adds: “some of them have passed the sentence period and still in jail until they submit what is required from them. It is made clear that the majority of prisoners are from the needy and poor families who are unable to repay what is on them. How their problems can be solved is ye unclear.”

How can they submit what is required from them while they are jailed? And, is there any legitimate or legal justification the courts rely on while issuing such rulings?

The Parliamentary report went on, “This type of punishment is doubled and its impacts become worse. Some prisoners have no children and families to support them and it has become apparent that these prisoners are the only sustainers of their families and children.”

The report indicated there are many prisoners who are waiting trails and then landed in prisons until the court looks into their cases. The are intervals between court sessions that can reach months and years. There are many prisoners who have exceeded two years in jail without being tried; they were landed in prison under the order of the general attorney, investigation bureau, or under the instructions of social personalities.

The report confirmed that members of the committee were notified byh the Sana'a Central Prison authorities that the President of the Republic denoted 200 million riyals to pay for the debts and blood money on prisoners, but unfortunately such a mount of money was not used for this purpose.

The report mentioned, “We are now in another Ramadan and the presidential committee that is authorized every year to visits prisons promised to secure the release of prisoners, but until now no one was freed. We were notified that around 70 million riyals of the sum donated by the President in Ramadan three years ago has not been used yet.

In its report, the committee pointed out that 60% of the total number of prisoners in the Sana'a Central Prison are detained on murder and banditry cases. Procedures of their trials were prolonged to reach 2 years without issuing the final verdict. It added there are murder cases on which death sentences were issued but no execution of the verdict was seen. Such prolonged procedures resume conflicts and quarrels between the people concerned.

The committee noticed there is a contradiction between the authorities of prison and the authorities of the general attorney regarding the execution of verdicts. The prison bylaw gave the director of any prison the authority to immediately release any prisoners at the end of his/her imprisonment term while the executive bylaws of the general attorney state that directors of prisons should notify the attorney offices when the imprisonment term of defendant comes to an end, and then to take an written note on the release of prisoner. These two viewpoints resulted in the prolonging of case-related procedures and imprisonment terms. They cancelled the role of prison administrations and discharged their responsibility from caring for the rights of prisoners.

The Shura Council's committee disclosed that there are multinational prisoners ( Ethiopians, Iraqis, Sudanese and others) who have been imprisoned for months with being transferred to the judiciary. Their imprisonment terms has ended and they are still detained. Besides, there are Ethiopian female prisoners who can not speak Arabic and, therefore, can not express the nature of their problems, some of them were brought from the criminal investigation bureau and no attention drawn to their cases although they have been jailed for a long time. There are some women jailed for suspicion of privacy, a case which is not labeled as a crime under the law.

Officials in the penitentiary told the committee there are 800 prisoners from all around the republic detained for thefts, dishonesty, most of them faced imprisonment sentences and wrote down pledges to return what is upon them. Some of them appear to be unable to repay what they have taken.

Letters and complaints coming from prisons and penitentiaries all over the republic have recently increased. In these letters and complaints prisoners mentioned there are flagrant human and legal violations committed against them. They are subjected to malpractices and maltreatment by influential people and suffer a lack of basic services in prisons. These prisons are crowded with prisoners, exceeding their capacity.

Iraqi prisoners:

In the Capital's Central Prison, Mohamed al-Fadhli, an Iraqi refugee complained that he is ever subjected to torture by electric tools and harsh beating. In his letter, he said he lost his virility because of recurrent beatings on his testicles and his sense of hearing because of beating on his head. Al-Fadhli further shouted that he intends to file a suit against the Yemeni government to the International Criminal Court.

The security authorities in the Sana'a Central Prison have detaining Iraqi nationals holding refuge cards from the Higher Commissioner for Refugees' Affairs. According to their expressions, they are subjected to flagrant violations and maltreatment. As a result, a detainee in the name of all appealed to the UN Secretary General Kofi Anan to intervene in order to rescue them.

“We are Iraqi prisoners who are thrown in the Yemeni Nazi Detention and appeal to Kofi Anan, UN Secretary General to take a quick action to save us and our families from terrorism and oppression practiced against us. These malpractices are clear violations against human rights and kinds of social discrimination,” said the detainee.

“The Yemeni constitution is merely ink on papers and no one works in compliance with it, and verdicts are issued in the light of tribal considerations and compliments.”

Detainees described their life in Yemen jails as “a life in the neighborhood of beasts where inmates are denied their legal rights. Life in the Yemeni prisons makes one lose hope, as there are prisoners who have been detained for 25 years”

They accused the High Commissioner for Refugee's Affairs in Sana'a of being mercenaries and intelligent agents with the political security. In their letter, published by al-Shura Net in the second half of Ramadan, the detainees said: ” the High Commissioner for Refugees' Affairs has changed into an office for mercenaries because its employees and lawyers are mercenaries for the political security who always ask for bribery for doing anything.”

The prisoners' letter invited human rights advocates to check the authenticity of their complaints, “if anybody visits us, he will find out material evidence of what he learns.”

For its part, the Parliamentary committee for freedoms and human rights, accused the Parliament's board of halting the implementation of the current year's program, which assumed that prisons should be visited before Ramadan.

The Parliament board, then, notified members of the committee that the parliament's budget can not cover cost of paying visits to prisons. Some committee members announced their readiness and will to visit prisons in different Yemeni governorates at their expense.

Ahmad Saif Hashid, MP and member of the committee, denied that the financial expenses are reason behind the Parliament's rejection to order the committee to visit the Yemeni prisons. He expected the reason to be bad situations of prisons and fear of exposing that to the public.

The Parliament board is still conserving its acceptance to members of the committee to visit prisons, even after they show their readiness to pay visits to prisons at their own expense.

System of hostages & women prisons in Yemen

The Parliamentary committee of rights and public freedoms revealed, in a report which it forwarded to the Parliament by the end of 2004, following a field visit by the committee to prisons in different governorates, there are hostages who spent several years in prisons.

In the same prisons, the security authorities detain citizens, among them children, who have been jailed for over 3 years without committing any crimes punishable under the law. These people have been put in prison as hostages on crimes committed by their relatives who are harbored by influential persons.

The report added: “we have found 26 hostages in Ja'ar Central Prison, the so-called 'Bahrain Prison' in Abyan, among them 2 children, one is 14-year old and the other is 16 year old. These two children have been detained over crimes committed by their relatives.

The report denounced the detention of children despite the fact that verdicts were issued against perpetrators in absentia and considered such acts as infringements of the law and violations against child rights and the international conventions approved by the government of Yemen.

Shawqi Abdullatif al-Qadi, MP, confirmed to the same source that the system of hostages is an officially fixed case and that 3 hostages were detained in the Abyan Central Prison over a crime committed by a perpetrator who is harbored by an influential person. “When we met prison officials, they told us these victims are detained for relation of the murderer, alleging the security fear that revenge may be taken upon them”, he said. “This justification incites laughter, as the murderer has other relatives upon whom revenge can be taken, and it has become apparent that the murderer is harbored by an influential person.”

Al-Qadi denounced the intrusion of influential persons in course of legal procedures and harboring criminals and murders as such, “hinder the course of justice and incites revenge incidents”

On the other hand, the Parliamentary report insisted on prison officials to offer inmates kind and fair treatment and to prevent attacks and harassments against them, as well as to reconsider the case of detainees imprisoned for crimes committed by others.

The rights and freedoms committee's report came as a summary of field visits to prisons last year, but it was not forwarded to the Parliament to be to discuss its contents and take measures against violations.

Shawqi al-Qadi, a member of the committee expressed his concern over hindering activities of the committee and turning away from following its recommendations. “We do not know who benefits from hindering the committee's activities and delaying discussion of its report,” he added.

He commented, “the Parliamentary reports pass through distillation stations so that contents and expressions be modified, in addition to deleting what should be deleted.” According to him, the Parliament's current bylaw stands as a barrier before the reports of committees, considering them as recommendations and are not directed to the concerned sides.

Among the barriers hindering implementation of the report is the absence of the concerned ministry and its staff. Shawqi al-Qadi, then insisted on the presence of the concerned party and not the concerned minister who can attend only for endorsing any proposals forwarded by MPs and said the minister is a political personality who can not understand anything of the report.

The Parliament board prevented the committee of rights and public freedoms from implementing its field program concerning visits of prisons this year under the pretext that the Parliament's budget can not cover the committee's expenses. However, sources in the committee confirmed that higher officials order the concealing of violations committed in prisons.

“We suggested to have visits to political security prisons, but our request was rejected. Then we went to Dr. Abdulwahab Mahmoud, who is responsible for activities of committees in the Parliament asking for a visit to ordinary prisons, but the matter was prolonged,” he added. ” So, we suggested to pay visits to prisons at our own expense and threatened to show the case to the public opinion, and Dr. Mahmoud then promised to reconsider the matter and provide the costs, but up until now nothing has been achieved.